Well, with a bit of a hiatus for this column due to my inefficient time management, I thought it best to come back with a bang – four new albums, from quite an eclectic group of artists.
First off, we’ll cover Bloc Party and the indie group’s latest Hymns; then the vaunted return of ska/swing masters Cherry Poppin’ Daddies; while the release date has finally passed for one of my favorite band’s new albums – Death of a Bachelor. Lastly, we’ll hear how great the weekend surprise album Anti is, from superstar Rihanna. Can she pull off the same success Beyoncé did in late 2013?
Let’s find out:
Bloc Party – Hymns
The sound emanating from this band is usually a bit odd, their album Intimacy was often just replete with beeps and boops that would occasionally spark to life with fiery lyrics. I always saw the band as a less inventive TV on the Radio, but I don’t always like to compare bands. My friend Jimmy is quite enamored with the group, and it definitely falls in his camp as a style suitable to fans of electronic computer-rhythm sounds. I was a huge fan of the song “This Modern Love” from their first album Silent Alarm as it was used to great success in the first season finale of How I Met Your Mother. I also quite enjoyed the video for their single “Helicopter” but have found their music to be a bit rote since their debut in 2004. I even forgot they’d had an album after 2008’s Intimacy – 2012’s forgettable Four.
So, to my surprise, this is easily the best work from Bloc Party. Apparently having reinvented themselves a bit with the departure from long time bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong, the sound is more varying, something I was always a bit disappointed with in previous albums. Remaining is singer Kele Okereke’s mellifluous timbre and poignant lyrics, along with a refined structure to the album. Not that the band has taken a more commercial approach to their presentation, but I actually found myself noticing a story being told throughout the album, rather than a string of similar ideas slapped together. If you like the band’s previous efforts, you’ll definitely want to check out if you agree with this new take, as the songs are at least reminiscent of their earlier work. If you weren’t sure about them previously, I implore you to give them another chance. All sings point to Hymns being their best album yet.
Key Tracks: So Real, The Good News, My True Name, Into the Earth
Cherry Poppin’ Daddies – The Boop-a-doo
This was certainly the last name I expected to pop up in the new releases section on Spotify. Like a rollicking Looney Tunes entrance, the band’s newest album begins with a cover of the classic Eubie Blake “That Lindy Hop”. I didn’t realize it, but this was exactly what I needed on a calm Monday afternoon in balmy January. Weirder things have happened to me in winter, so why not listen to a rockabilly/ska/what were they really? band cover some swing standards? The revue continued with covers of touchstones by Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, and none of them were unappreciated. If you like the elegant tunes of the early half of the 20th century, and missed hearing Steve Perry’s vocalizations, then grab their latest. It’s certainly a unique treat.
Key Tracks: 42nd Street, Night and Day, Puttin’ on the Ritz
Panic! at the Disco – Death of a Bachelor
I covered a handful of the singles from this album, and as you’ll recall I was definitely anticipating this with an almost veracious appetite. So it’s here, and I may have set my expectations a bit too high. That’s not to say this isn’t the best the band has put out since 2007’s Pretty…Odd, but I think I was just way too overboard because of the phenomenal single LA Devotee. While that song will very likely end up in my top ten of 2016, I have to say this album may end somewhere around the middle.
I’d definitely say the second half of the album is the better half, with a great Sinatra impression by sole remaining original member Brendon Urie on the title track and the end note “Impossible Year”. After that, he fantasizes over the history trapped in a thrift store with “Golden Days” and stutter steps his way through “House of Memories” reminding us of early hit “But It’s Better If You Do”. Overall the first half, or pretty much all, of the album reminds me quite a bit of their cousin band Fall Out Boy’s most recent album, American Beauty/American Psycho. First track “Victorious” is heavily reminiscent of FOB’s “Irresistible” while “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time” triggers the same undercurrent “Uma Thurman” does with its sample of the B-52’s “Rock Lobster”. (“Uma” sampled the Munsters theme song, but both have a surf-rock guitar feel). On second listen, I don’t mind that at all – rather by recalling their fellow former Fueled by Ramen cohorts, they continue the thread that brought them both to fame. It’s done them both well, and the past few years have seen quite the resurgence for FbR bands, such as Paramore and these two, so we’re the better for it.
Key Tracks: LA Devotee, Death of a Bachelor, The Good, the Bad & the Dirty, Impossible Year
Rihanna – Anti
Surprise! Over the weekend, the streaming service Tidal revealed that Rihanna had been working on a new album for the better part of a year. The final product is currently tied to the unnecessarily verbose service, run by her friends Jay-Z and having the most labyrinthine of contracts to obtain listening pleasure. Spotify and Pandora are much simpler, so stay away from this for now and listen to samples on iTunes or elsewhere until you have a better way to download it. Or buy it, it’s actually quite worth the purchase. I’ve not owned all of her albums, but this one is fairly concise.
This is a more mature Rihanna. Listen to her throw down ultimatums in “Kiss it Better” or decisively assert herself in “Desperado”. This is also a more harmonically mature Rihanna. Check the beats dripping down in Same Ol’ Mistakes, the sensual cover of last year’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” by Tame Impala. She’s transformed that somber song into a groove undeniable of her rich style. The sweet melody she displays in the follow-up, “Never Ending” may have immediately become my new favorite of hers. I like the more raucous tempo of previous hits like . It only gets better on the next track, where she evokes Alicia Keys in the ballad “Love on the Brain”. I’m all for this resurgent Rihanna, and I hope this translates to continued success for her down the road.
Key Tracks: Needed Me, Kiss it Better, Never Ending, Love On the Brain
Come back next week for reviews of new stuff from Foxes, St Lucia, Sia, Sleigh Bells and Sir Elton John!